While David Byrne, Tom Verlaine, Debbie Harry and some blokes sharing the surname Ramone were whipping up a storm at CBGBs, a parallel artistic community based in Manhattan’s Lower East Side was also trying to get noticed. Working almost exclusively on Super 8, aspiring filmmakers such as Richard Kern, James Nare and Vivienne Dick were employing guerrilla tactics and art school cool to capture the changing face of New York on celluloid.
Blank City is an affectionate portrait of a rough’n’ready creative cabal, where energy and attitude meant more than technical ability; Andy Warhol may have started the ball rolling in the 60s, but it was the following decade that truly saw the emergence of a punk ethos in movie-making. Director Celine Danhier catches up with the main chancers 30 years on – some of whom went on to wider acclaim, such as Desperately Seeking Susan director Susan Seidelman, Jim Jarmusch and actor Steve Buscemi.
In truth, many of the archival clips featured in Danhier’s affectionate film expose a lack of cinematic talent, but the reminiscences of those who were there (Debbie Harry is especially forthcoming) offer up a fascinating oral history of a city on the verge of bankruptcy, and the struggling artists who filtered it all through their own idiosyncratic lenses. A head-spinning history lesson that fills in the visual gaps of a pressure cooker scene already well documented by its music.